Murder charges dismissed in 2016 Minneapolis drive-by shooting of 2-year-old boy

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has dismissed the murder charges against the suspected gunman in a deadly 2016 drive-by shooting of a 2-year-old boy in Minneapolis.

Chris Welch, 36, was charged in 2019 with second-degree murder in the death of Le’Vonte "King" Jones on July 8, 2016. Jones' 15-month-old sister was injured in the shooting. 

Prosecutors said Welch fired at the minivan King and his younger sister were riding in. He was allegedly aiming at the minivan driver when the children were hit.

Welch was arrested in the weeks following the shooting, but he was later released due to a lack of evidence.

Welch’s trial was scheduled to start next week, but Freeman dismissed the charges against Welch because the state’s five key witnesses are no longer available to testify at trial. The witnesses are either dead, uncooperative, charged with murder themselves or cannot be found before Monday, according to the dismissal filed Tuesday. The state says they do not have any evidence to present at trial to identify Welch as the person who committed the crime. 

Freeman told FOX 9 his office is "deeply disappointed" that it had to dismiss the charges. 

"Everyone of god’s children has the right to grow up, have an education, home… and you get killed by some thugs running around the neighborhood shooting guns… [it's] preposterous," Freeman said. 

One of the uncooperative witnesses is Jones' father, who was the intended target in the deadly shooting, the court documents said. 

"How can you witness the death of a child and not cooperate? I don’t understand that," Freeman said. 

Meanwhile, the victim’s family believes fear of retribution is a driving factor in all of it – a problem that’s deep seated in the community.

"It’s heartbreaking, that’s all I can say is it’s heartbreaking. I feel like we’ve got convictions with less evidence," said Danny Givens, a family member. "The high likelihood that you know something about it and aren’t engaging your higher self to call into account about this, it makes me wonder the state of the world right now."